by Chuck Pool (cpool@edu) -
The Rice Owls saw their hopes of a winning return to Rice Stadium blindsided by a nightmarish sequence of six plays in the final three minutes of the first quarter as Army turned four turnovers into 28 points on its way to a 49-12 victory on Saturday night.
The Owls (1-5) held the Black Knights (4-2) offense in check on their first two series, limiting their running attack to just 33 yards on their first 10 carries. Starring a true freshman (Miklo Smalls) as quarterback for the first time since 1996, the Owls had opened their third possession of the game by gaining 14 yards on three carries to the Owls 37 before Smalls was picked off by Max Regan, who sprinted 48 yards for the game's first score.
Rice would turn the ball over on each of its next two plays deep in its own end of the field and Army needed just three plays and 37 seconds to expand the lead to 21-0. The Owls then moved 41 yards into Army territory, but a fourth turnover of the period ended the threat, and Army knifed through the Owls defense in three plays to push the margin to 35-0.
"It was my decision to start Miklo (Smalls), hope we'd catch lightning in a bottle with him and he'd stimulate us, get us going offensively," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "The three quick turnovers and the points were sure not how I wanted his time at Rice to start. He's a very talented player; he's a young player, and we'll keep working with him."
Jackson Tyner came on in relief of Smalls and led the Owls to a pair of touchdowns in the second half. The first came on a 22-yard burst by Emmanuel Esukpa and the second on a 58-yard connection between Tyner and Aaron Cephus.
Resdshirt freshman Jordan Myers made the start at running back for the Owls and finished with 76 yards on 15 carries. Cephus led the receivers with 87 yards on three receptions. Senior linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee finished with 12 tackles, the 10th time in the last 17 games he has reach double figures in tackles.
The Owls return to Conference USA play for the final six games of the season. After an off week, they will travel to San Antonio on October 21 to take on UTSA.